You Are A Gift

iStock_000018620938_Medium-500x333Earlier today I was speaking with a fifteen year old girl in our juvenile detention center. She is experiencing depression and is 6 weeks postpartum so I was concerned about her. As we talked, I started to understand some of the sources of her depression.

During our session, she revealed that her mother also gave birth to her when she was fifteen and that her biological father has been in prison since she was three years old. Her mother is currently married to a verbally and physically abuse man that she feels her mother places before her in order of importance, attention and affection.

As this young lady and I talked, she described how she grew up feeling like a burden to her young, single mother and how after her mother had other children and multiple boyfriends, she was always made to feel like she was “in the way”.

It became very apparent that this young woman, consciously or unconsciously, had a baby at fifteen years old, partly so that she could have someone in her life that didn’t make her feel like a burden, but gave her the unconditional love she has been yearning for. However, due to her own psychological damage, she now sees her 6 week old baby as a burden and if she doesn’t learn to change the way she views herself, she will pass on that damage to her child.

What I discussed with her this morning and will try to instill in her is this:

We are the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves. We are also gifts to other people and the Universe. Our children, if we have any, are also gifts.

Too many people grew up being made to feel, even as children, that they were a burden. Maybe they were born to parents who themselves were brought up in painful situations where they did not truly know how to love and appreciate others.

Maybe their parents conceived them as a resolution  to fixing a broken relationship or “save” a troubled marriage. Maybe their parent expects them to be their caretaker, or they were simple born during a difficult time of their parents lives and they were never able to be truly enjoyed, loved, appreciated and viewed as precious gifts as children.

Many of us have grown up never feeling truly accepted and carrying these feelings on unconscious and conscious levels that we were and are a burden.

This is how people can fall into a deep depression or become suicidal, thinking that the World would be better off without them.

This type of thinking is what keeps people from truly connecting with other people on any level or truly enjoying life.

Because of this they end up beating themselves up all the time with negative self-talk, not appreciating themselves, walking around apologizing for themselves, feeling like other people know better and are better than them.

For those of us who have received this terrible message growing up, it’s time to change it.

You are not a mistake. You are not here by accident. You are here because we are supposed to be here.

Our lives have purpose and intention.

We don’t have to apologize for being here or for being ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our past mistakes or experiences that have helped create who we are now. We don’t have to be ashamed, apologetic or doubt the beauty that is our unique selves.

We are not a burden and if our parents are the ones who tried to put that on us, it’s time to recognize that it is their issue and not ours. We don’t have to carry that with us. We can let it go.

We are precious gifts and today we will start treating ourselves as gifts to others, the Universe and especially ourselves.

Embracing Your Inner Power

istock dollar inner childSometimes you just have one of those days where it seems like the sun isn’t shining on you. In that darkness it’s easy to beat yourself up over the past and become anxious and negative about the future.

I’ve been there. It used to happen to me a lot actually and sometimes it still does. In the past, I dealt with those days the only ways I knew how which were becoming cling, needy, depressed and anxious. All maladaptive coping mechanisms I had picked up sometime during my life.

In return, I found myself trying to control other people and situations. Wanting people to do what I wanted them to do, think what I wanted them to think and feel the way I wanted them to feel. This rarely worked out in my favor. Usually the people I was trying to control either pulled away or responded negatively which in the end only made me feel worse.

Even when I did get what I thought I wanted, I usually still felt empty and overtime I realize the reason I still felt empty was because the real issue was within me and I couldn’t fix that with people or things.

I realized overtime and from doing therapy clients who suffering from anxiety, depression, and anger issues, that people and things do not stop our pain or move us to a better place. Only we can do that for ourselves.

We are the only ones who have the inner-power to end our suffering and angst. Sure sometimes we need the help of our support systems and/or our spiritual beliefs, but all change truly begins within us. That is when we truly heal and move beyond that pain and darkness.

Once we dig into and heal ourselves, peace, love and trust will return to use easier and quicker than we thought. Trust me. I’ve been there time and time again and it never fails. Our past neurotic attempt to bring back balance and peace to our universe happens much more naturally when it comes from within.

We have to deal with our feelings and accept them as ours. We have to stop our need to control. Peace, love and happiness will return. Remember, a bad day is just a bad day and we don’t have to make it last any longer than absolutely necessary.

I’m not saying it’s easy to stop the pain and anxiety when it comes rushing in. Sometimes even for myself today it takes a moment for me to recognize it, stop from going to my default maladaptive coping mechanisms, and reach inside my own inner-power, but I am better at it today than I was yesterday and will be better at it tomorrow than I am today. That’s all I ask of myself and all I ask of you.

We are much more powerful than we believe we are! We can control not only our thoughts and feeling, but our destinies! We have to learn to harness and embrace our inner power.

It doesn’t matter if you have anger issues, depression, low-self-esteem, whatever it is. The faster you realize you have all the control and no need to try to control other people or situations, the faster you will have the strength to overcome any obstacle that’s in your way, even if that obstacle is yourself.

 

Who And Where You Are Today Is Right Where You Are Supposed To Be

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Many of us spend a whole lot of time not being happy with ourselves and our current situations. We we always think there is somewhere else we should be at this point in our lives and would have a lot less stress if we learned to embrace who we are and where we are right now. We would have a lot less stress also if we learned to let go instead of trying to control situations and other people.

How much of our energy is spent beating up on ourselves or trying to make an outcome turnout in our favor or stop someone from doing something that really isn’t in our control?

I have to admit that during certain parts of my life I wasted a lot of energy trying to control the future, trying to control other people’s behaviors and even emotions. I went to great lengths to keep people from getting mad, to keep people from leaving or to get people to be who I wanted them to be. It was exhausting and robbing me of my sanity, but during those times, I thought it was keeping me sane. I thought it was keeping my world balanced, but in reality it was destroying certain parts of myself and my life.

A lot of the desire to control outcomes and people come from us not trusting that things will eventually workout in our favor. Some people will call it not having faith in God or the Universe, therefore we try to take control over things that are really out of control. I’m not talking about sitting back and not taking action in your life and just hoping things will happen by happenstance, but I am talking about not worrying excessively over whether you’re going to get the job you interviewed for when you’ve already interviewed and given it your all. I am talking about not worrying whether or not your friend will be mad when you let her know you can’t lend her $20 because you barely have $20 yourself.

We all have our own way of trying to keep our world in balance, especially when we don’t trust that things will be okay no matter what and that the Universe, for the most part, is working for our good. What we have to learn, what I am still learning, is that life is good right now. That everything that is happening right now is just the way it is supposed to be. That where I am right now is where I am supposed to be. I am not behind, I am not trying to play catch up to this other me that is living a better life, and I have not missed out on some magical opportunity that will never come back. I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

Realizing that and letting go of trying to control every little thing frees us from our past. Who we were back then and what we did back then was just fine for back then. Who we are at this moment is also just fine for right now. Once we stop trying to control circumstances and people, once we stop beating up on ourselves for not being better, we will realize how much control we actually have over ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions and our present moment. We all want to be better, to be happy, to grow, but sometimes we have to enjoy life as it is today and just be and realize that where we are and who we are right now is good enough for today.

We All Need To Practice Emotional First Aid

istock0000179371As a mental health professional, I have found myself spending a lot of time trying to convince people that they need to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally. Meaning, I run into people who are working two jobs, taking care of their family and everyone else around them, but are letting themselves go mentally and are getting sicker and sicker over time.

Or, I meet someone who is obviously not dealing with various issues in their lives, probably hoping that ignoring them will make them go away, but all the while they are growing emotionally unhealthy.

It reminds me of when a parent would bring a child in to see me for therapy and it would become apparent pretty quickly that it’s the parent that needs therapy, not the the child. Many times the parent would like at me as if I was crazy. They couldn’t see that their own neurotic behavior, substance abuse or even past childhood issues are creating the “problem” they are prescribing to their child.

It’s easy to tell when someone is physically not doing well, but it’s not always easy to tell when someone isn’t mentally doing well, especially when it comes to everyday things like anxiety, depression and self-esteem. Things we all deal with from time to time.

I have a sister who at one point was working a very demanding job, raising a challenging teenager on her own,  volunteering her sparse free time to multiple organizations and if that wasn’t enough, she was trying to help every friend that called and needed something from her.

On the outside she looked ambitious, energetic, like a true type A-personality. On the inside she was feeling overwhelmed, flustered and fragile.

One night, while having dinner with our family which should have been relaxing, seemingly out of the blue she had what some would call a nervous breakdown. She started crying, hyperventilating and felt as though she was going to lose control of her mind. I could look at her and tell she was having a classic panic attack, but she was too far gone to hear me and was convinced she needed medical attention.

Soon afterwards she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and was told to cut back on the million and one things she did in her day to day life to take care of other people and to start taking care of her own mental health, something many of us don’t do enough of.

Sometimes I even catch myself too caught up in work, life and everything else and before I realize it I am dealing with some type of anxiety, insecurity or dysthmia. I have to slow down, stop myself and figure out a) where is it coming from and b) how do I take care of it. Often times for me the solution is simple awareness and acknowledgement that something is bothering me. Other times it takes journaling, reading something inspirational or processing my feelings with someone I trust. I’m usually that person for everyone, but sometimes I need someone to be that person for me.

It doesn’t always have to be something major and it doesn’t always take a therapist, but sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s simple mindfulness, meditation, or getting out and having some fun, but many of us have no real idea of what it means to administer emotional first aid to ourselves which is why I included this Ted Talk by Guy Winch: Why We All Need To Practice Emotional First Aid

I AM: The Shortest Sentence In The Written Word, The Two Most Powerful Words In The Universe

1609951_10153272920026605_3017107923737994968_nThe other day I came across this picture on Facebook and it immediately reminded me of a book I read called I AM: Discovering The Power of Who You Really Are. It’s still today one of my favorite books because it helped me realize how powerful those two words truly are.

The reason those two words, I AM, are so powerful is because those are the words that help us create our world, our realities. We are always saying to ourselves, largely subconsciously, I AM. It can be as simple as, “I AM bored” or as self-destructive as, “I AM nothing”.

What happens is that whatever we say we are, we will subconsciously start creating experiences for ourselves to confirm what we think we are. It’s the way we stay somewhat sane and try to keep our world in balance.

If we subconsciously or consciously say and believe, “I AM a loser”, we will continuously put ourselves in situations to lose. We will not try hard to win even if we are lying to ourselves that we are. We are expecting to lose and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if we somehow win, that will not be enough to change our thoughts of I AM a loser, we will just chalk it up to luck or even say, “I should have loss” or “It doesn’t matter that I won, I AM still a loser”.

When we say those words, I AM, we are defining ourselves, how we view the universe, how we experience our experiences and our state of mind.  We control all of that. No outside forces, no other person. Even someone in prison has power in choosing how he defines his I AM, his experience.

Our internal dialogue is very powerful, that’s why it is important for us to take control of it and redirect it, especially when it’s being self-destructive or not pushing us in a positive direction.

Those words, I AM are with us every second of the day.  They are so powerful and help us create so much of our emotions, our reality and our experiences that they help us create matter! They help us create matter because they help us decide what matters in our lives.

Sometimes when I am working with people that are extremely emotionally charged about something, I’ll stop and ask them, why does it matter? Often times they will stop crying or yelling and look at me with a puzzled look on their face. Then I’ll tell them that it only matters because they are making it matter and if they decide that it no longer matters, it won’t. I could almost see the burden being lifted from them as they realize that they have the power to let go of whatever emotions they had been holding on to (sometimes for years) because they decided to no longer make it matter.

Of course it’s not always that simple, but a surprisingly amount of the time it is.

So many people are in various degrees of emotional pain right now because they have no real control over their I AM. Who they are, their emotions and who they tell themselves they are on a subconscious level, is heavily influenced by other people and the ups and downs of daily life. If they only knew how powerful they truly were they could bring an end to much of the angst, depression and anger.

The Basics

  1. We create our reality.
  2. Fear tends to bring about the very thing that is feared.
  3. Faith (not necessarily religion) tends to bring about powerful outcomes.
  4. People tend to be products of their environments (but this doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t change).
  5. You cannot go back in the past and change anything you did (so don’t keep beating yourself up over it).
  6. Failure does not define who you are. You do.
  7. You create and experience your life. No one can live your life for you or is responsible for how your life turns out.
  8. You are the exclusive author of your story. You are the creator of this experience called life.
  9. You and only you can choose your interpretation of and reactions to your life experiences. You control your emotions.
  10. You are making it all what it is.

8 Things About Your Mind You May Be Unaware Of

SharpenYourMind_articleThere are many things I love about psychology and one thing is how much it brings us altogether and yet makes us all unique individuals. There’s so much about our minds that we often aren’t aware of and don’t even know is happening most of the time.

Here I’ve shared 8 things that affect most of us to one agree to another, many of which you are unaware of even when it’s right in front of your face.

We all have a capacity for evil

Most people like to think that they could never be convinced, tricked or manipulated into doing something wrong, but the 1971 Stanford prison study showed how social situations can affect our behavior. In the study led by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, a mock prison was created in the basement of the Stanford psychology building and 24 undergraduate students were selected to play the roles of prisoners and guards.

Researchers then monitored the prisoners and the guards and watched in dismay as ordinary college students began to do unimaginable things to each other. The guards for instance became physically and psychologically abusive to the inmates who in turn began to exhibit extreme emotional stress and anxiety.

The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but the researchers ended it in just six days due to the abusive behavior of the students playing the roles of guards.

“The guards escalated their aggression against the prisoners, stripping them naked, putting bags over their heads, and then finally had them engage in increasingly humiliating sexual activities,” Zimbardo said.

These were all thought to be physically and mentally healthy college students who within days had turned into someone else.

This reminds me of the soldiers in Abu Ghraib where seemingly normal American soldiers began to ruthless abuse, humiliate and torture the detainees committing humane rights violations that included rape, sodomy and murder.

We are all susceptible to “change blindness”

In 1998, researchers from Harvard and Kent university did a study where they had an actor ask a stranger on the street for directions. While asking for directions, they had two people carrying a large wooden door walk between the actor and the subject, completely blocking their view of each other. The actor was then replaced with someone else of a different height, build and voice. Half of the subjects in the experiment didn’t even notice the change!

“Change blindness” suggests that we are very selective when it comes to visual cues and that we rely on memory and pattern-recognition more than we realize. The same study has been repeated many times, including changing a main actor on stage with someone of a different build and voice and half of the audience didn’t realize that the actor had been swapped at all.

Some of us are more susceptible to “change blindness” than others.

Delaying gratification is inherently difficult, but is worth it

This one may seem like a no brainer, but researches in a 1960s Stanford experiment gave pre-school age kids one marshmallow and told them that if they could avoid eating it for 15 minutes while the researcher stepped out, they could have two marshmallows when he returned. Most of the students tried to wait, but struggled and eventually ate the marshmallow. Those who were successful in waiting used avoidance tactics such as turning their back to the marshmallow or covering their eyes.

The children who could delay gratification in the study also turned out less likely to use drugs, become obese or have behavioral problems later as teenagers or adults. The good thing is that delaying gratification is something that can be taught.

We can have strong conflicting moral impulses

In a famous study done in 1961, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram showed just how far people would go to obey authority figures, even if it conflicted with their own morals. Part of the study was to try to understand how so many Nazi war criminals were willing to commit unspeakable horrors during the Holocaust.

In the experiment, one participant was called the “teacher” and the other the “learner”. The teacher was instructed to give an electrick show to the learner, who was in another room, every time they got a question wrong. If the teacher was reluctant to give a shock, he was urged on by the researcher. During the experiment, most participants, even though they were visibly uncomfortable and stressed, administered increasingly painful shocks, all the way up to the final 450-volt shock which was labled “XXX”.

This study was originally considered a study of blind obedience to authority, but recently has been thought of as a study in deep moral conflict, suggesting that many of us, in the right conditions, can be pushed to do things we are uncomfortable doing, even if that means hurting others.

We are corrupted by power

We’ve all known someone, most likely a co-worker, who was one person before they got promoted and then a totally different (not usually for the better) person after they got promoted. Research suggests that when we gain authority or power, we tend to change and not always for the better. Those in power sometimes act with a sense of entitlement and/or disrespect.

Many studies show that even implied positions of power can change the way many people act. “When researchers give people power in scientific experiments, they are more likely to physically touch others in potentially inappropriate ways, to flirt in more direct fashion, to make risky choices and gambles, to make first offers in negotiations, to speak their mind, and to eat cookies like the Cookie Monster, with crumbs all over their chins and chests,” say psychologist Dacher Keltner.

We seek out loyalty to social groups

In a social psychology experiment in the 1950s, an experimenter took two groups of 11 boys, all age 11 to a summer camp. He gave one group the name the “Eagles” and the other the “Rattlers”. They spent a week apart, bonding, having fun with neither group knowing the existence of the other. When he finally brought the two groups together they failed to integrate, instead they stayed in their tight knit groups, began calling each other group names, competing against the other group in various competitions, creating conflict and even refusing to eat together. This is only after each group bonded together for only one week!

This is one reason I disbelieve the thought that if everyone were the same race/color, there would be no racism. There will always be some type of prejudices against groups we perceive as different from us, even if the difference is only in name (the “Eagles” versus the “Rattlers”). It’s just the way humans are wired to bond socially. Even if we all looked alike, we would find something to separate “us” from “them”.

Love is all you really need to be happy

That may sound hokey, but a 75 year Harvard grant study that followed over 250 men around for 75 years suggests that love is all you really need to be happy and satisfied long-term. Psychiatrist George Vaillant, The study’s longtime director says, “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

That is for many of us the hard part. We want to be loved, are afraid to love, to hurt or be hurt, therefore we find many, often creative ways to push love away and most of it is subconscious. We end up telling ourselves we don’t need love to be happy and that simply isn’t true. Even if it’s not romantic love, we all need to feel loved even if it’s the endless quest for love or passion for something.

We are always trying to justify our experiences so that they make sense to us

One day I’m going to sit down and write a whole post about cognitive dissonance. It’s such a fascinating topic. What cognitive dissonance says is that we are cognitive-dissonanceconstantly telling ourselves lies to make sense of what is going on around us, especially when what’s going on around us doesn’t make much sense. We want the world to be a logical and harmonious place, which of course often it is not.

An example of cognitive dissonance is someone who smokes, knowing that it is bad for their health, but they justify it by saying that they enjoy it so much that it’s worth the risks, or that it’s not likely they will suffer serious health effects, or that they are going to die of something anyway they might as well enjoy smoking, or that if they quit smoking they will become an irritable, angry person no one wants to be around. So, they continue smoking because it is consistent with their idea about smoking.

Cognitive dissonance is another one of those things that is largely subconscious, but we all do it. We try to make sense of a world that often doesn’t make sense and when we can’t make sense of it we are often put into an uncomfortable, upsetting state of mind. We become unbalance and try to figure out away to become balanced again.

These 8 things are just some of the reasons I love psychology. It unites all of us, while at the same time making each of us different.

 

Keeping Your Personal Power

1409846027000-186534921The other day I was listening to Joel Osteen and he was talking about not giving up your power. It reminded me of a group lesson I used to teach my high school students a couple of years ago about not giving their power away. In this sense, many of the high school kids I was working with were labeled “troubled kids”, and while many of them had various problems, one main issue they had was allowing other people to push their buttons, causing them to react and get into trouble over and over again. They were allowing other students in essence to control them.

What exactly does it mean to not give your power away?

It means to not allow other people or even events that happen throughout the day, to steal your joy, your positivity, your happiness. It also means to not allow other people to control your emotions or cause you to act out.

It’s really easy in life to be reactive. We could be having a good day and all it takes is for someone to  make a rude remark or throw some other negative event into our day and then we are no longer having a good day. We are no longer happy and smiling, but instead we are fixated on that one negative event. We have let someone or something take our power away. Our power to be happy, our power to be the master of our emotions, actions and therefore consequences.

Many of us give our power away all the time without even realizing it. We think something or someone else made us mad, sad or ruined our day without realizing that we gave them the power to do so. Our emotions can be so overpowering that we don’t realize the thoughts that actually caused us to have those negative feelings and it’s those thoughts that we have power over if not anything else.

Our thoughts are one of the first places most of us give our power away.

We have negative self-talk that many of us just except as being true when in reality, it’s often just garbage. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, we’re too ugly, too fat, weren’t born with the right genes, we’ll never be happy… the list can go on and on. First of all, if you believe all the negative self-talk, they tend to come true and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Second, they make us feel like crap and rob us of our natural power to feel good and be awesome people. Third and perhaps most importantly, they usually aren’t true. We have to challenge those negative thoughts instead of just accepting them. When you catch yourself having negative self-talk, ask yourself is it true? How do I know it is true? Negative thoughts and negative self-talk will do nothing but rob you of your power to control your life and have the life you want and deserve.

Another way we give away our power is through our actions or lack of actions.

Sometimes we are too afraid of making a decision, too afraid of change.  We don’t set goals. We sabotage ourselves. Sometimes we are waiting for something or someone instead of going out and doing it ourselves. I used to have a friend who was very educated, but he had trouble finding a job because he was always waiting for someone (usually family and friends) to find a job for him. He wanted them to find a place that was hiring, find out about the job, sometimes even get him the application. Needless to say he was unemployed for a very long time because he was waiting on someone else to do the things he could do for himself. He was giving away his power to be employed.

Lastly, perception is a major way many of us give away our power.

We give away our power by the way we look at things and perceive the world.  Many people see themselves as victims and that things are always done to them, that other people are in control of their lives, holding them back, causing their problems. If you perceive the world in this way then you are giving away your power and not taking personal responsibility for your life. Many people don’t understand that we choose how we perceive the world and we can look at it from different angles and viewpoints. Many of us have a default way that we perceive the world, but if that default way is holding us back and robbing us of our personal power, then we need to try a different perspective.

Take for example, if I go for a job interview and I don’t get the job, my default perspective might be “The guy interviewing me just didn’t like me. If I were a woman he would have probably hired me.” That’s giving away my power and making me feel like crap. I can change that perspective to something good and say, “I didn’t get the job, but at least I got an interview and I did my best, next time I’m sure I’ll get the job.” Or it could be a little more indifferent such as, “I didn’t get the job, guess it wasn’t meant for me. I’ll keep applying for other positions.”

The outcome doesn’t change. I didn’t get the job. However, my perspective changed and therefore how I felt about it changed from crappy, to positive, to indifferent. When I gave away my power with a negative perspective I felt worst then when I kept my power with good or indifferent perspectives.

There’s a saying that says, if you can’t change something then change the way you think about it. I have subscribed to that philosophy for a long time and trust me when I say it’s helped me stay positive and stay in control of my thoughts, feelings and actions.

When we give our power away we are allowing other people, events, circumstances, etc. to control how we feel and react. We are the captain of our ships and therefore are more control of our lives than we sometimes realize.  When we take our personal power back we get out of the passenger seat and back in the drivers seat of our lives.

Absolute Yes: How To Learn To Say No To The Things You Really Want To Say No To

unnamedMaking decisions can be very hard to do. Making tough decisions can be even harder and even anxiety provoking, which is why many people end up either in bad decisions, a place of ambivalence or living with more angst than necessary.

Many people are so afraid of making tough decisions that they simply don’t. Unconsciously many of these people will put themselves into positions (i.e., being homeless, being institutionalized, exceptional religiously preoccupied, joining the military, being taken care of by government assistance) so that they don’t have to make many decisions.

One way to make decision making easier is to develop a principle called absolute yes.

The principle is simple. Say no to anything unless it is an absolute yes.  That means if not every part of you, mind body and soul, is not saying yes, than the answer is no, at least for now.

Many of us, besides finding it hard to make a decision, end up saying yes when we really mean no. Sometimes this causes us to end up in undesirable situations all because we didn’t follow through with our true answer.

When you start to use the absolute yes principle, you will see it demands commitment to the truth. It forces us to know ourselves, the little games we play, the excuse, justifications and stories we tell ourselves.  We will start to re-examine situations where we are tempted to sell ourselves short, give our power over to someone else or sabotage our own happiness and success.

It will help us to see through the glitz and temptation that often makes us say yes because we want to be respected and loved, when inside we really want to say no.

Think about it. Many people say yes to having sex, getting married, to having kids when they really want to say no.  Everyone has things that tempt them to say yes; from the sexy bad guy you know will only drain you emotionally, to that second piece of cake or that new red Mustang 5.0 you really can’t afford, but really want.

Saying no to anything unless it is an absolute yes means we have to take a step back from these temptations, put some emotional distance between our desires and what is actually best for us. That is why it is a discipline and a practice which takes time, commitment, especially commitment to personal mastery.

An absolute yes means that there is no doubt and while we may not know what is going to happen next, we take responsibility for our decision and there is no one else to blame for our choice.

Just because something isn’t an absolute yes now doesn’t mean that it will be a no forever. We may require more time, more information, or more insight before our no turns into an absolute yes.

This reflection, gathering information and putting some space between our emotions are all essential parts of effective decision making skills.

Taking an absolute yes approach to making a decision will reduce the amount of stress involved as well as help us to say no to the things we really don’t want to say yes to and say an absolute yes to the things we do. We’ll spend less times doing things we truly don’t want to do and more times really living the life we want to live.

For a more colorful take on Absolute Yes (and a very good read), check out Fuck Yes or Fuck No by Mark Manson.

Yesterday Does Not Define You

istock_000002301808xsmallIn the 8th or 9th grade I wasn’t the best student. At times my grades weren’t all that great and my behavior in school wasn’t either. I was never the type of student that was always in trouble, but I was always struggling to find my place amongst all the other teenagers who were just as lost as I was.

Often times I would find myself trying to do things to try to fit in. Things the popular kids were doing, such as not caring about grades and caring more about being respected and feared over being respected and respectful.

Sometimes I would do things that I didn’t understand, which I am sure many of us can attest too, especially when we were teenagers and our hormones were raging and our still developing brains were still trying to come together.

This would often lead to be being unhappy with myself for one reason or another. I would be unhappy with my grades which often barely straddled C’s and more closely D’s. I would find myself unhappy with the way I dealt with certain situations, rather it was bullying other people or getting bullied. Emotionally I was all over the place. Sometimes depressed, sometimes angry, but never truly happy for long.

It was during this time that I realized that every Monday I had a chance to start over. To almost be, or at least try to be, a totally different person than I was the week before. Maybe last week I got detention, was mean to one kid or allowed another kid to make me afraid to walk down the hall. Maybe the week before I wasn’t the best student, but every Monday gave me an opportunity to try to do better, to start over.

That was always such a relief, such a refreshing feeling, to know that I did not have to be the person that week that I was the week before. That I could start over fresh. And that’s how I started to get better, as a student and as a person, by starting over one week at a time, trying to do better each week and not letting the previous week define me.

It wasn’t until later in high school that I realized I could use that same technique, that same mental reset everyday. I didn’t have to wait until Monday. If I had a bad day today, I could start fresh tomorrow. Eventually, and I think I was a senior in high school or maybe in college when I realized every hour I could start over. If I had a bad morning, that didn’t mean the rest of my day had to go bad. If I had a bad moment even, I didn’t have to dwell on it and let it define my day.

That is one of the great things about life, that we can start over everyday, every moment if we really wanted to and learn from our mistakes. We don’t have to dwell on yesterday. We don’t have to let yesterday or 2 minutes ago define us. We can learn from those mistakes and move on.

By using that technique way back in high school, my grades and behavior improved. I became an overall better person, more in touch with myself and not depending so much on others, or the mistakes of yesterday to define me. I still use that technique today, albeit, sometimes as an adult it is harder to remember and actually do, but when I do it, it is just as refreshing to know that I don’t have to stay stuck in the past.

We are not our past and yesterday does not define us. Too many people get mentally and emotionally stuck because they let their past define who they are and they don’t realize that they can break out of that rut by simply trying to do better, to do something different, to have a different attitude or to try to take on a different perspective.

Sometimes that is easier said than done, but once you learn how to “reset” your life, it’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself, each and every moment.

Six Things Therapists Don’t Want You to Know

Woman-with-finger-over-li-007As therapists, we want you to open up to us. To trust us enough to tell us things you may have never told anyone else. We want you to explore your deepest, darkest places and deal with things you may not even be aware that you were dealing with or avoiding. However, as therapist, there are some things that we keep from you and here is what I consider to be the top five.

1. “Sometimes You Bore Me.”

As therapists, we get paid to listen to other peoples problems and that may seem like an easy task, but it’s not. Sitting and listening to someone talk for 50 minutes can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially when the person talking is going on and on about something that is irrelevant to why they are actually in therapy. Sometimes it is hard to shut out our own internal chatter and (I feel guilty to admit this) it’s easy to start daydreaming or letting your mind wander instead of being attentive and present.

When I find this happening, it’s usually a clear sign to me that I need to redirect the client, or that whatever I am doing isn’t working and I need to try a different approach. Some clients however simply aren’t that interesting.

I remember running into a fellow therapist at the coffee machine saying she needed some extra caffeine because her next client was “a snoozer”. Fortunately, this is a rarity and not the norm, but if your therapist looks bored, it’s a good chance he or she is and it could be a clue to both of you that you aren’t really working on the real problem at hand, but dancing around it.

2. “You’re All Better, But I Want You To Keep Coming Back Because I Need Your Money.”

Therapist in private practice depend on their clients to make a living so, sometimes, even when therapy should come to an end, after the problems have been resolved, a therapist will keep rescheduling you to come back, even if you run out of things to talk about. They don’t want to let you go or to discharge you because that is taking money out of their pocket, so they will continue rescheduling you to come back as long as you or your insurance company continues to pay them.

Speaking of which, most insurance companies will only pay for a certain number of sessions so a therapist may want you to keep coming back until you’ve used up all your sessions and then, rather you are better or not, they may stop seeing you. That is unless of course you have the money to pay out of pocket, which can be costly. Most therapist charge anywhere from $75 to $200 an hour.

If you feel like your work is done with the therapist, but they continue rescheduling you to come back, it’s okay to bring this up to the therapist, to stop going to see the therapist or to get another one if you feel like your therapist is using you. A good therapist doesn’t want their client in therapy longer than necessary, even if discharging that client is going to take some money out of their pocket.

3. “Your Secrets Are Safe With Me… Sort Of.”

As therapist, we want you to feel safe talking to us and tell you that everything is confidential and we like to think that it is, but there are somethings that may not be confidential such as when someone talks about killing themselves, someone else, abuse, neglect, etc. Also, courts can demand to see our records in the event of a court case such as an employment dispute or divorce proceedings. As therapists, we generally fight to keep our records private and only release what we absolute must, but while we promise confidentiality, there are exceptions.

Also, therapist often consult with other therapists, but usually we keep names and irrelevant details out of the discussion. It’s not uncommon for therapists to discuss patients with friends and family even, but in those cases names and details are always kept out because violating confidentiality is against the law and a therapist can be sued if it’s proven that he or she violated their clients confidentiality.

4.  ” I May Need More Help Than You Do.”

Therapists are human. Sometimes therapists have problems consciously and unconsciously that they may not be able to deal with on their own, yet they still show up to the office everyday to help others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. If your therapist is not in the right frame of mind and doesn’t know how to let his or her own problems go once face to face with a client, a litany of problems can occur.

Therapists aren’t supposed to give advice, but often we do and if your therapist is going through their own life situations, they may give you some very bad advice, not be present or make some very unhealthy decisions.

I’ve heard stories of therapists crying and confiding in their patients as if their patients were there own personal therapists, leaving the patient confused. I’ve also heard of therapist who were so cold and bitter while going through a divorce that they couldn’t be objective and empathetic when listening to their patients talk about their own relationships.

I’ve also known enough therapists who went into counseling and psychology (probably unconsciously) to help themselves and ended up being therapists who were just as neurotic, unstable and mentally unhealthy as many of the patients they were supposed to be helping.

This is where issues come into play like the therapist who slept with his or her patient, or had some other unhealthy, inappropriate dual relationship with a patient like having a patient temporarily live with them or being overly and unprofessionally involved with a client.

It is often advised that therapists have their own supervisors or therapists to talk to so that they can keep their personal and professional lives separate. Fortunately, most of the people I knew would make bad therapist ended up going into other fields.

5. “You Will Get A Diagnosis Rather You Deserve One Or Not”

Unfortunately, in this day and age of managed healthcare, everyone that has insurance has to get a diagnosis in order for the therapist to get paid. Sometimes this is easy because the patient obviously fits a certain diagnosis like depression or anxiety, but sometimes it’s not so obvious.

For example, when a patient is just dealing with typical life stressors that don’t meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, the therapist will have to make a diagnosis fit if he or she wants to get paid.

Sometimes therapist will go for a “soft” diagnosis, like adjustment disorders, but some insurance companies won’t even pay for a “soft” diagnosis, so an adjustment disorder with depressed mood may be unnecessarily upgraded to major depressive disorder, single episode.  Your therapist may never tell you that you have been diagnosed, but you have been and at some point, if you care, you should ask what your diagnosis is.

A major part of my job is to diagnosis clients and everyone that enters my door leaves with a diagnosis if they didn’t have one already. I am always surprised at the number of patients who are referred to me with a current diagnosis, but when I ask them if they’ve been diagnosed with anything they either say “no” or “I don’t know”. These people are walking around with a diagnosis and don’t even know it.

6. “This May Hurt”

Most therapists won’t tell you up front that therapy can be emotionally and mentally painful. Most of the time we go to therapy because we are dealing with or avoiding some type of mental pain and we as therapist want to help you find it, confront it and deal with it. It can be pain that you know, like a recent divorce, or pain that you didn’t even realize was there, like how much you miss your dad that abandoned you when you were 3 and you haven’t thought of in over 10 years.

You may also come to some conclusions while you are in therapy, conclusions that may be difficult like ending a relationship, telling your mother how you really feel about the way she raised you or learning to say no to people you’ve always said yes to. A good therapist will be there with you and walk you through that pain, but most won’t tell you upfront how much this may hurt, otherwise, you might not go through with it.

Most therapists are good people who are in this field for the right reasons, not for the money (which isn’t great in the first place, but can be made), the power (some therapist like having a “God Complex”) or any other selfish reasons. Still, like in every profession there are good therapist and bad therapist and knowing how to identify a bad therapist can not only save you time and money, it may keep you from coming out of therapy worst off than you started.